Cat Fight: Colorado bobcat hunting ban rejected by state officials

Wildlife officials in Colorado rejected a proposal to end the regulated hunting and trapping of bobcats in the state earlier this month.

Like clockwork, yet another state has been the lucky recipient of the “traveling bobcat circus” that seems to be making its North American Tour. “Cat fights” over bobcat hunting have recently bubbled to the surface in New Hampshire, Vermont, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana - just to name a few. It now appears we’re on the “West Coast leg” of the show - with California and Colorado facing demands for restrictions from similar players.

Colorado’s Fish and Wildlife Commissioners noted that their decision to reject the ban was driven by science; including the fact that regulated harvesting of bobcats is not posing any detriment to the overall health of the species.

Colorado’s restrictive proposal was prompted by a petition presented to the state last year, according to reports.

Prior to a meeting to discuss the ban, Colorado Parks & Wildlife biologists sent an advisory memo stating “To the extent the commission is interested in the division’s opinion, we do not believe there is adequate scientific evidence to support the petition.”

Commissioner Robert Bray made the motion for the denial, stating “We must manage all wildlife, there’s no scientific evidence that anything we are doing (is hurting the species). Our professionals are helping bobcats, not hurting bobcats.”

Same Story, Different States

As mentioned above, demands from well-funded protectionist groups to end predator hunting (particularly bobcat hunting), have been a repeat theme from state to state over the last few years.

Colorado’s petition appears to be a rubber stamp copy of restriction-seeking petitions coming across wildlife agency desks in other states; which similarly call into question the health of bobcat populations, and the notion that bobcat hunters may confuse the spotted wildcats with their federally protected cousins - the Canada Lynx.

The same narrative was implemented by hunting-critics 2,000 miles northeast in New Hampshire two years ago, when state wildlife professionals asserted that the time may be right for a conservative reopening of the bobcat hunting season in that state - after decades of being closed for stabilization of the local population. (Read more: Rise of the NH Dumpster Cats)

The NH Fish and Game Commission echoed similar findings to Colorado’s commission, and approved of the proposed opening of a state bobcat season - that was until The Humane Society of the United States brought fourth concerns over the presence of Canada Lynx in the state to political leaders.

The bobcat season proposal was rejected by New Hampshire’s legislative authority committee over fears of violating the ESA with incidental Lynx catches - allowing the gavel to fall before professionals could refute the fact that NH already had Lynx protection zones and regulations in place.

That proposal was sent back to the drawing board within NHF&G - where it was withdrawn after alleged political pressure mounted to kill the idea outright.

Ironically enough, history repeats itself - and amid talk of Canada Lynx in play, the Humane Society wasted no time weighing in on the Colorado bobcat debates. HSUS also criticized the Commission on social media suggesting that the “majority” of Colorado residents support a ban on hunting of bobcats.

Today, Colorado Parks & Wildlife biologists were far more prepared than New Hampshire officials were two years earlier, and strongly disputed the Canada Lynx argument.

Colorado officials estimated there are around 100 to 200 lynx in Colorado and declared the lynx population to be stable.

“There’s no scientific evidence that bobcat hunting or trapping has an impact on lynx populations” CPW spokesman Jason Clay said. “As with all hunting in Colorado, CPW regulates the harvest and requires hunters and trappers to bring bobcats into an office for personnel to inspect and mark each animal.” he stated, according to reports.

CPW spokeswoman Lauren Truitt adds “We continually monitor harvest on huntable species, population numbers, habitat availability and impacts from urban sprawl, disease, recreation and development on all animals.”

Sustainable Use Supporters Speak out

Licensed hunters and trappers stood firm on their support of the regulated bobcat season currently in place. “It is actually animal rights that they are concerned about,” said Dan Gates, president of the Colorado Trappers and Predator Hunters Association. Gates reiterated the public’s reliance on state wildlife agency assessments.

(Photo | The Trappers Guide, 1887)

“This is about letting the experts do their jobs,” he said. “There’s never been a species that has ever been extirpated by sanctioned and highly regulated trapping or fishing.”

The Sportsmen’s Alliance reports “Colorado already has some of the most restrictive laws in place for trapping since Initiative 14 was approved by voters in 1996. Currently, trappers are only able to use box cage or live traps to harvest bobcats.”

Colorado’s bobcat debates mirror a growing trend of outcry over the regulated take of wildlife resources across North America. Debates are usually fueled by a sector of the populous who doesn’t agree with the regulated hunting and trapping of wildlife - notably fur-bearing and predatory species such as coyotes, bobcats, bears, and cougars.

Traditionally, professional biologists have relied on scientific data to dictate wildlife management policy; which includes many states mandating licensed hunters to submit harvest reports, animal tissue samples, and public survey programs to estimate population dynamics.

Today, state agencies find themselves increasingly caught in the crossfire as small, yet vocal troops of non-hunting citizens voice dissatisfaction with letting the “scientific chips” fall where they may.

Colorado’s Commission may be next

In New Hampshire’s case, despite emerging victorious in stopping a bobcat hunt from taking place, HSUS representatives, along with fragmented coalitions of activists, went for the jugular by asserting the NH Fish & Game Department only caters to hunters, and that non-hunters should hold sway over management policies. Known infamously as Senate Bill 48, a bill seeking to remove the Fish and Game Commission from existence was presented last year.

Cooler heads prevailed, and the integrity of wildlife management was spared in the state’s legislature two years in a row, with the checks-and-balances system of a Governor-appointed Fish and Game Executive Director and an 11 member hunting policy Commission remaining in place to regulate laws regarding hunting and trapping of game species.

Across the country, the hard fought tug-o-war over wildlife conservation policy ensues - typically with the same accusations that, because hunters exist, and are permitted to hunt, there must be a cabal of “hook and bullet” sympathizers running some kind of “con on wildlife” behind the scenes at state wildlife agencies.

(Photo | NPS)

On the heels of a scathing review from Colorado chapter HSUS director Aubyn Royall in a recent editorial letter, I suspect political talks about the future of Colorado’s Fish and Game Commission are already ensuing behind closed doors.

And to think - its all because that Commission opted to manage predatory species with biological science over manufactured silliness.